Is it at all correct to say let me by or let me past? If so, is it a common expression or an old-fashioned or rare one? I guess most people would say make way to indicate (maybe a bit rudely) that they want to go past someone who blocks the way. Am I right? Is could you please let me past a good and acceptable way of saying this more politely?

  • Wrong! It doesn't make sense. Instead , you can say: pick one's way through with/make one's way through. It means to move along a route full of obstacles; to travel, usually on foot, through an area of heavy vegetation or through a crowd of people or things. Example:When the grandchildren visit, I have to pick my way through the toys on the floor. We slowly picked our way through the thorny bushes to get to the ripe raspberries. – Mia Apr 19 '16 at 12:18
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    I'm not sure Let me past is actually grammatically valid. It's certainly very rare compared to Let me pass But there are any number of ways of saying Make way! Excuse me! Gangway! Step aside!, so I think the question is POB. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 19 '16 at 12:38
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    @FumbleFingers I read the question as asking about whether a particular phrase is OK to say and not asking for the best phrase, which would be primarily opinion based. I don't think it should be closed. – ColleenV Apr 19 '16 at 12:55
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    @ColleenV: I take it that was your downvote for Mia's answer. Personally, I think Let me by! sounds like something from a Victorian children's story and Let me past! sounds even worse. You might as well ask whether Oi!, Shift your ass!, Out the way!, etc., are "okay". All opinions on the "suitability" of any such alternatives are just that - opinions. About the only meaningful thing to say here is that it's highly unlikely anyone would object to Excuse me! on the grounds that it's "non-idiomatic". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 19 '16 at 13:40
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    @Fumble - As you point out, there are plenty of perfectly grammatical constructs that would sound rather rude to the native ear. I hope we don't get in the habit of closing questions when a learner is essentially asking, "Is this okay to say? Or would it sound rude?" I would consider such a question very much on-topic. – J.R. Apr 19 '16 at 15:41

Make way sounds archaic, I wouldn't expect it in ordinary speech, only in historical/pseudohistorical contexts or in regard to royalty (in case it matters, I speak American English). The rest of these are pretty much synonymous, if differing in politeness. These are pretty polite:

  • Excuse me, could (or can) I get by you?
  • Could you please let me pass (or past)?
  • Excuse me
  • Could (or can) I get by you?

While there are somewhat rude, especially without a please at the end:

  • Let me by
  • Let me pass (or past)

I use excuse me most often out of these, when passing by a person or through a crowd of people, sometimes coupled with a sorry for inconveniencing them (however slightly).

You could add please to the end of any of these to raise the politeness a bit. Adding a thanks after someone moves for you would be appropriate, too. Excuse me can mean many things, but in this context, it's usually clear.

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  • May I ask which word you would stress if you said "could I get by you"? Would you stress "by"? And thanks for your answer! – fill Apr 19 '16 at 15:45
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    @fill Yes, I think by is the word that's stressed in that sentence. – Tim S. Apr 19 '16 at 15:50
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    I might word the second one as "Could you please let me pass?" The pass vs. past question is an interesting one: In, "Could you please let me pass," pass is a verb meaning "get around". But in, "Could you please let me past," past is preposition meaning "on the other side of you." I think both are grammatical; they may have slightly different meanings, but they serve the same function. Also, I'd be unlikely to say any of those last three without a "please" at the end, unless I was a firefighter or something. – J.R. Apr 19 '16 at 15:52
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    Language is tricky, isn't it? For some reason, "Let me by" sounds rather rude, imposing, and off-putting, while "Could get I by you please" means the same thing, yet sounds more polite and deferential. And I don't think it's just the please at the end: "Let me by, please" is only a little better than "Let me by". – J.R. Apr 19 '16 at 16:00
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    I agree with @JR that 'Let me by' is rather rude. It would something that I would say as a demand, particularly if someone was intentionally blocking my way. 'Let my by, please' would be less confrontational but would still be more of an insistence than 'Excuse me'. – ColleenV Apr 19 '16 at 16:29

Here are a couple of acceptable ways to ask the question:

May I pass, please?

May I get by, please?

Can /Could I get by, please?

Will/Would you let me by, please?

Or you can simply say "Excuse me,[please]" and touch the person lightly on the shoulder/arm. It's usually obvious that you want to pass and you are asking them to clear the path for you or something.

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    I found this through google: idioms.thefreedictionary.com/excuse+me In one of your comments you mentioned that another way of conveying my message was saying "Excuse me." This dictionary lists that meaning and uses the phrase "please let me by." Do you disagree with it? – fill Apr 19 '16 at 15:41
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    @fill: I edited my answer. Thanks for your question. I learned something :-) – Mia Apr 19 '16 at 15:45

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